Ziegfeld Theatre

141 West 54th Street,
New York, NY 10019

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Vito on February 21, 2006 at 12:56 pm

Yes Bob, it’s coming back to me now, in fact I seem to recall having a sound tech, I think from WB, who ran the sound tracks, it was a bit busy because in some locations the unions insisted on two projectionists for 3-D projection.
I very much enjoyed Stan’s post, we would have made a good team Stan, I would also use soundtrack albums to replicate overtures when there was none. As to the two projectionist rule, we alwys had em for 3-D and 70mm, in fact, for Cinerama there were as many as 5 guys in the booth. Later in the early 70s some of the circuts cut the second man and one man ran the show with an increase of salary for the engagement. Then when so many roadshows were 35mm, the theatre owners baulked and insisted on the elimination of both the two men and premium pay scale. The last 35mm roadshow I ran with a premium rate was “Fiddler on the Roof” I also recall the automation installation at the Ziegeld, I think it was for the 70mm roadshow of “Marooned”. They had some clown in a little booth in the rear of the orchestra seats with a bunch of buttons like “The Wizard od Oz” doing God knows what. He made a comment something to the effect that “we really don’t need those guys in the booth” Upon hearing of this I gave the little jack**s a piece of my mind. I was youger then and pretty full of myself, not to mention very proud of what I did for a living.

veyoung52 on February 21, 2006 at 12:41 pm

And you wouldnt actually see or hear – multichannel mag striping on the actual projection prints until “The Robe,” for which Hazard Reeves (by that time supervising the technical activities at Cinerama, Inc.) won a technical Oscar.
However, there were a slew of 2-D features before the introduction of CinemaScope’s 4-track-mag-on-film that did incorporate interlocked 4-track: “From Here to Eternity,” “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T,” “Gilbert and Sullivan”, “Julius Caesar,” “Mogambo,” “Shane,” quite a few others including a reissue of “GWTW.” It wasn’t always a welcome event, according to some critics. In the NYTimes review of “From Here to Eternity” on 8/5/53, it was reported “…is being shown on a wide screen and Stereophonic Sound. It does not need these enhancements. It has scope, power and impact without them.” Earlier in April of that year, the Times, equally disappointed in Warner Bros.‘ 4-channel-interlocked “WarnerPhonic Sound” introduced with the 3-D “House of Wax” sighed “Dimly we forsee movie audiences embalmed in three-dimensional wax and sound.”

BobFurmanek on February 21, 2006 at 11:07 am

Vito; those 2 Warnerphonic titles were originally presented with full coat magnetic interlock as well. The full coat had the left, center, right channels, and the right print only had the surround mono optical track. The left print had a mono optical composite of the 4 tracks which served as an emergency back-up in case the interlock went out of sync.

None of the dual-strip 3-D films from that period had magnetic stereo tracks on the actual print. By the time mag/optical prints were introduced (late 1954) 3-D was dead. If you did play KISS ME KATE in stereo, it would certainly have been via mag/full coat interlock.

Vito on February 21, 2006 at 11:00 am

Another point about all this is, we were overwelmed with all the new sound and picture formats we were hit with in the early 50s. It’s a little difficult to remember what we ran and how we presented it, I had enough trouble remembering what the heck we were doing at the time, plus I’m an old man :) Bless you Bob for keeping it all straight.

StanMalone on February 21, 2006 at 10:56 am

All of this talk about the proper way to present a movie reminds me of a time (1973) years before my projectionist days. I was working as an usher at the ATLANTA, which was Walter Reade’s only theatre in Atlanta Ga. Two Reade bigshots, the directors of advertising / promotions and public relations were at the theatre preparing for the Atlanta premiere of “Man of La Mancha.” They were interrupted by a call from HQ in New Jersey because during the afternoon showing of “Sleuth” at the Ziegfeld, the picture had slipped out of focus. This had also happened the night before and both times a call had to be made to the booth to alert the projectionists to the problem.

At the time, the Reade organization was involved in a dispute with the projectionist local regarding the terms of the contract involving the Ziegfeld’s very expensive and cutting edge (for the time) automated equipment. Since “Sleuth” was a roadshow it seems that two projectionists had to be on duty at all times. Reade’s position was that since the booth was completely automated, one should suffice. And since it seemed obvious that even with two on duty no one was actually paying attention to the screen there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the office that day. (Of course I only got the management side of this story.)

It is a sad commentary that the “push a button and forget it” style of booth operation so common today is even in the houses of the great Times Square that I so much wished to be a part of in those days. Even sadder is that most of the movie going public would not even notice the difference in a good presentation and a bad one unless the bad one was upside down. I am afraid that by the time I became a projectionist, showmanship was mostly a thing of the past and very seldom have I been able to enjoy the privilege of presenting a movie where film, masking, curtain, and light cues were coordinated.

For the record, this is how I did it, as learned from the professionals at “The ATLANTA, A Walter Reade Theatre”: When previews were shown first, we opened the show the usual way. Just before the overture the curtain would close and the curtain floods would go to bright. As the overture ended, the floods would dim out and the curtain would open on the film company logo. No white screen! If there was no preshow, the overture would start and then the house would go to half. Near the end of the overture the house would go out and the curtain floods would dim. Curtain open on the logo. There have been a few times when I have recreated the overture, intermission, and exit music using the CD player in the booth. “West Side Story”, missing its opening footage, and “Sound of Music” were the titles. It seems that on “Ben-Hur”, the lights went out and the curtain opened and then the audience sat there in the dark while the black film of the overture showed on the screen.

Not a very satisfactory way to set the mood or open the show. But, as others have pointed out, be thankful you at least have this. My beloved ATLANTA is now a parking lot. I was planning to fly to New York for “West Side Story” but the blizzard took care of that. Maybe it will return. I wish I had the chance to work with Vito. I will bet we could have kept “Sleuth” in focus! Hopefully I will make it up for “Lawrence” where I can enjoy it with some of my fellow Cinema Treasures posters who still appreciate a good presentation and movie when they see it.

Vito on February 21, 2006 at 10:50 am

I recall running “Charge at Feather River” and “House of Wax” with the left eye print print having 3 mag tracks (left, center, right) along with a composite optical back up track, and the right eye print with a surround (optical) track, it was a loooooong time ago so I could be a little off here, but it’s as best as I can recall. As for “Kate” I never ran the sound on a seperate interlock so unless the print was either Prespecta or 4 track mag, it must have been optical mono.

BobFurmanek on February 21, 2006 at 10:12 am

Vito, thanks for the compliment!

However, I should point out that KISS ME KATE was never presented in Perspecta. It was originally shown in stereophonic sound with an interlocked full coat 35mm magnetic track which had the left, center and right channels. KATE opened at Radio City Music Hall (flat only) in November, 1953 and then played wide (in 3-D) on the New York Loew’s circuit for Christmas, 1953.

MGM’s first Perspecta release in the U.S. was BETRAYED with Clark Gable, which opened in September, 1954.

Vito on February 21, 2006 at 9:37 am

Bob, I ran “Kiss Me Kate” in that 3-D format with Prespecta sound,
Wait till they all see that! it will knock their socks off.
As Ann Miller sings
“it’s too darn hot”!

Vito on February 21, 2006 at 9:22 am

Memo to Clearview: Hire Bob Furmanek

BobFurmanek on February 21, 2006 at 8:58 am

If the good folks at Clearview want to see how a classic film should be presented (i.e. showmanship) I suggest they make the trip out to Suffern, New York.

The Lafayette Theatre kicks off their annual Big Screen Classics series this Saturday, February 25, with THE BAND WAGON. You’ll learn how to use entrance music; when to dim the lights; when to open a curtain before the vintage shorts/trailers as opposed to the main feature, etc. You’ll also see that modern commercials and coming attractions are most certainly NOT part of the classic movie going experience.

If you can’t make it on Saturday mornings, they have an excellent Movie Musicals weekend on March 10-11-12 with loads of rare prints, including KISS ME KATE in dual-strip Polaroid 3-D with stereophonic sound, and LOVING YOU in an archival dye-transfer Technicolor print!

Visit View link

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on February 21, 2006 at 8:51 am

Hardbop is right – I would have bought some candy for sure if “Ben-Hur” had an intermission, but like I said before they had very little time to get the audience turned over for the next show.

The manager who told us there would be no intermission also said the Ziegfeld will be showing classics whenever there was a downtime in their schedule for new releases. I think she mentioned September and October. I figure the classics will outgross most of the new releases anyway, even at the reduced admission price.

Having attended the Ziegfeld four times in two weeks reminds me of something Carly Simon sang: These ARE the good old days.

hardbop on February 21, 2006 at 8:25 am

It kind of seems penny wise and pound foolish not to schedule an intermission. Theatres make the bulk of their money (or at least they get to keep it all) from concessions. These long films give them an opportunity to sell more popcorn.

YMike on February 21, 2006 at 7:56 am

Went to the 4:30 screening of “Braveheart” yesterday. No trailers and the print looked great. Hope this series continues. There was a survey card given out where you could list the movies you would want to see at the Ziegfeld. Hopefully this means there are plans to continue this series.

Vito on February 21, 2006 at 4:12 am

Yes andreco, during the roadshow heyday we always ran a technical rehersal of both the show print and the back up. I am not sure what goes on today in most theatres, but I can tell you National Amusements, which was the last company I worked for before I retired, has an excellent company policy which states all prints must be screened the night before they open. I spent many a night running prints till three or four in the morning. Since we were running platters, the main purpose of the screenings was to be sure there were no mistakes in continuity or misframes, but if there was a print problem we had an 800# to call to get a replacement
reel/print. In the old days we would get pre inspected prints from a film exchange, now however, it is not out of the ordinary to get the prints straight from the lab. Although it was rare, I did have a couple of times when I recived two reel 3s and no reel 4 etc. The worst case was when I called to tell the exchange I was missing the 5th reel of a movie and had recived two reel 4s, so guess what they sent me, yup… another reel four.

Andres on February 21, 2006 at 2:53 am

When I worked in film distribution and exhibition some years ago, we always checked the prints and if it was a roadshow film we always had a rehearsal the day before opening the film. From what I have read here from Vito, I am sure he always checked the print before throwing the switch.

umbaba on February 21, 2006 at 2:18 am

I was at the screenings of “Ben-Hur” and “Braveheart” yesterday.

While I absolutely agree with all the “nitpicking” about the intermission, curtain cues, film stock etc (as the people in this site are old school movie going lovers as myself), I was absolutely overjoyed at the print of Ben – Hur. The stereo sound was outstandingbut seeing the film on a large screen was awesome. I had seen it in 2005 at the AMC 25 on 42nd st…they played it on their smallest screen and the people who worked there kept screwing up (lights were on, film lost frame etc) …but seeing it on a small screen was criminal…although i was glad just to see it in the movies…BUT..yesterday topped them all….also, no mention has been made of “Braveheart”…absolutely great print, clean, great sound (OK…a nitpick…a jump cut at the end…but I can live with it)…I talked with Monique (the theater manager) she was extremely nice and I told her what a good thing this festival is..

So….look, they get the prints they get…yes, it would be great if they were checked…but maybe that’s the print they got…I doubt there are many new prints struck of Ben-Hur etc. After being on this site for a couple of years now, on all the theaters…it always seemed that our dream of a film festival at the Ziegfeld was just a “pipedream”…but now….we got it…it seems that someone has listened to us..and this could be the start of something big….so, let’s not sweat the small stuff guys (sorry, don’t mean to preach) but, there I was sitting in the Ziegfeld yesterday, watching a double feature of “Ben-Hur' and "Braveheart”…whod’ve thought

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on February 20, 2006 at 4:54 pm

It would’ve been nice to have the intermission at “Ben-Hur” today, but at least a theater manager spoke to the audience about it before the show started so it wasn’t an abrupt shock. It must have been removed to make sure the 4:30 showing of “Braveheart” started on time, but starting “Ben-Hur” at 12 noon instead of 12:30 would’ve solved that problem.

Anyway, that and the curtains being open during the overture were the only disappointments in the whole show. The color was beautiful, no frames were missing, and the sound and score were especially powerful. The sea battle and chariot race were seen and heard to maximum effect in a theater like the Ziegfeld, but the big screen also lent a special dimension to the quieter moments. Ben-Hur’s reunion with his mother and sister in the leper’s cave was never more moving to me than it was today.

evmovieguy on February 20, 2006 at 4:41 pm

Ed-can’t argue with your comments about ‘crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s’ when it comes to presenting the films. However, when I see the Ziegfeld advertising “films the way they were meant to be seen” as far as I’m concerned that means ‘seeing them on the big screen and NOT seeing them on TV’, and in fact they are presenting these films the way they were meant to be seen. “Ben-Hur” is a stellar example of that. That film should only be seen on the big screen.

Yeah, it would be great if the Ziegfeld would do all the curtain and light cues, but it would also be great if we could see these films at the Rivoli, or the Capitol, or even the original Ziegfeld. It would also be great if we could go back to 1959 and see ‘Ben-Hur’ in it’s first run, but that obviously isn’t going to happen. I don’t have much to complain about with this series. I’m am more than pleased that it is happening, and ‘Ben-Hur’ for example was one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve had in a while, so I’m not gonna sweat the curtain and light cues. If they do them great, if they don’t well….they don’t.

HowardBHaas on February 20, 2006 at 1:49 pm

ok, red curtain is a cliche. yes, gold, yes, my mistake.

Forrest136 on February 20, 2006 at 1:44 pm

The seats and interior used to be gold too!

Butch on February 20, 2006 at 12:32 pm

The Ziegfeld’s house curtain is gold and always has been.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on February 20, 2006 at 12:19 pm

Andres, the traveler curtain is in use at the Ziegfeld during this series. There is a red contour curtain that is perpetually fully drawn into the proscenium, but I can’t recall from days of old if this is merely a decorative bit of drapery or if it was ever a functioning curtain. Anyway. the thick gold traveler is accompanied by another transparent traveler on an inside track that – if operated independently – could remain closed and act as a scrim while the overture plays. Here are some photos I took over the last couple of visits to the Zeigfeld. The last picture shows the traveler as it was closing after the credits rolled for WSS last Tuesday night.

Exterior day
Exterior night
Rear signage (W. 55th)
Ticket lobby chandelier
Lower Foyer statue
Lower Foyer Gallery
Stairway from Lower Foyer
Upper Foyer landing
Stairway from Upper Foyer
Upper Foyer lounge area
Upper Foyer lounge area alternate view
Men’s room signage
Ladies' Room signage
Rest Room entrance cove mirror
Auditorium from rear orchestra
Projection booth portholes
Side wall ornamentation
Seat row end-cap
Rear stadium seating
Side wall motif
Exit sign
Proscenium decorative panel
Traveler curtain in action

I wanted to re-take a few of those shots that are a bit blurry or off center (the ladies' room signage and the end-cap for example), but when I went back the 2nd time, my camera battery expired and I forgot the spare!

HowardBHaas on February 20, 2006 at 12:07 pm

Adreco, there’s a red curtain, and a transparent white curtain. The prior operator, Cineplex Odeon, would open the red curtain first, and then would open the white curtain while the film title came on. I liked that practice. I suppose they probably had closed them both after the trailers, but I don’t recall exactly.

Clearview opens them at the same time, with the white one seen separately, but not really separately used.

If they have time for intermissions and still have the number of showings they wish to present for intermissions, then they should do the intermissions. These epic films had them originally. That’s the right presentation, would help with restroom breaks, and increase concession stands. \

HowardBHaas on February 20, 2006 at 12:07 pm

Adreco, there’s a red curtain, and a transparent white curtain. The prior operator, Cineplex Odeon, would open the red curtain first, and then would open the white curtain while the film title came on. I liked that practice. I suppose they probably had closed them both after the trailers, but I don’t recall exactly.

Clearview opens them at the same time, with the white one seen separately, but not really separately used.

If they have time for intermissions and still have the number of showings they wish to present for intermissions, then they should do the intermissions. These epic films had them originally. That’s the right presentation, would help with restroom breaks, and increase concession stands. \

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on February 20, 2006 at 11:46 am

Vito… you’re points about laziness and lack of showmanship are exactly what I’m talking about. Irv, you may well consider it splitting hairs, but for a theater as high profile as the Ziegfeld to undertake an ambitious series of movies “the way they were meant to be seen”, why stop short of the very best presentation possible? Make no mistake about it, I was thrilled to see WSS as I was to see “Ben-Hur” and I’m thankful to Clearview for the program. But, if they are listening to our suggestions and interested in making this series a success, then why not offer our honest and constructive criticism along with our genuine appreciation for the effort? Perhaps the ideas and opinions expressed here will result in higher quality prints in the future and presentations closer to the filmmakers' original intentions. Clearview has an opportunity to do something very special here in NYC and I for one would like to see them make the very most of it.